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One year later, Waukesha vigil remembers victims of Christmas parade attack

'There's a sense of comfort and relief … seeing the community coming together like this'

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People in winter coats stand together at dusk.
Attendees stand together Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, during a memorial on the one year anniversary of the Waukesha parade attack in Waukesha, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

A year ago, Melinda Schultz was attending a Christmas parade with family when a man drove an SUV into the crowd, killing six people and injuring dozens of others.

Schultz, an off-duty EMT, jumped into action to help treat the victims.

The Waukesha resident has been dreading the attack’s first anniversary. Her anxiety and depression intensified as the milestone approached, though Schultz says she found some solace by joining hundreds of others on the anniversary early Monday evening at a vigil at Waukesha’s Cutler Park.

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People look toward the stage as they stand together.
People listen to speakers on the one year anniversary of the Waukesha parade attack Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, at Cutler Park in Waukesha, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

“It’s just as painful today as it was a year ago,” Schultz said. “But … there’s a sense of comfort and relief because of seeing the community coming together like this, knowing that there is support.”

The memorial began at 4:39 p.m., the time that driver Darrell Brooks started plowing into the crowd. Mourners in “Waukesha Strong” T-shirts wore blue armbands and held blue lights, the color designated by the community to symbolize unity after the tragedy.

People across the state are shining blue porch lights and Gov. Tony Evers, who addressed the crowd Monday, has ordered flags to fly at half-mast.

“Waukesha has worked to turn an unimaginable tragedy into a powerful source of hope and love and strength,” Evers said. “It’s been breathtaking to watch. You’ve all reminded all of us what community really means through faith, through kindness and compassion.”

After hearing remarks from Waukesha’s mayor, fire chief and police chief, attendees shared a prayer and sang “Lean on Me.” Once the speeches were done, the crowd broke into an impromptu chant of “Wauk-e-sha.”

A bracelet with a blue light is fastened to someone's hat.
Blue lights are displayed to support Waukesha on the one year anniversary of the parade attack Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, at Cutler Park in Waukesha, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

For Waukesha resident Tom Reilly, the vigil was a chance to celebrate community after what Reilly referred to as an act of “radical evil.”

Last week a Waukesha Circuit Court judge sentenced Brooks, who is 40, to multiple life sentences in prison for perpetrating the attack.

When Brooks drove into the celebration, Reilly says Brooks intentionally invaded a “place of peace, place of the wonder of children’s faces and enjoyment of the wonder of a parade.”

A crowd of people stand together in a park.
A crowd stands together on the one year anniversary of the Waukesha parade attack Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, at Cutler Park in Waukesha, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Local leaders are raising money for permanent memorials on Main Street, near the site of the attack, and in Waukesha’s Grede Park. And the city plans to host a Christmas parade Dec. 4 with added safety measures.

Reilly didn’t go to the parade last year — those outdoor celebrations always seemed too cold, he said.

But next month he’ll be joining in.

“I certainly intend to be there this year,” he said. “This parade will not fizzle and fade.”

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